THE REAL CULTURE WAR IS OVER CAPITALISM

April 30, 2009

There is a major cultural schism developing in America.  The new divide centers on free enterprise -- the principle at the core of American culture, says Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute.

Despite President Barack Obama's early personal popularity, we can see the beginnings of this schism in the "tea parties" that have sprung up around the country.  In these grass-roots protests, hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans have joined together to make public their opposition to government deficits, unaccountable bureaucratic power, and a sense that the government is too willing to prop up those who engaged in corporate malfeasance and mortgage fraud.

The data support the protesters' concerns, says Brooks:

  • In "A New Era of Responsibility," the president's budget office reveals average deficits of 4.7 percent in the five years after this recession is over.
  • The Congressional Budget Office predicts $9.3 trillion in new debt over the coming decade.

Voices in the media, academia, and the government will dismiss them as a fringe movement -- maybe even dangerous extremists.  In truth, free markets, limited government, and entrepreneurship are still a majoritarian taste, says Brooks:

  • In March 2009, the Pew Research Center asked people if we are better off "in a free market economy even though there may be severe ups and downs from time to time." Fully 70 percent agreed, versus 20 percent who disagreed.
  • Asked in a Rasmussen poll conducted this month to choose the better system between capitalism and socialism, 13 percent of respondents over 40 chose socialism; for those under 30, this percentage rose to 33 percent.
  • Republicans were 11 times more likely to prefer capitalism than socialism; Democrats were almost evenly split between the two systems.

The government has been abetting this trend for years by exempting an increasing number of Americans from federal taxation, says Brooks:

  • Adam Lerrick showed last year that the percentage of American adults who have no federal income-tax liability will rise to 49 percent from 40 percent under Obama's tax plan.
  • Another 11 percent will pay less than 5 percent of their income in federal income taxes and less than $1,000 in total.

Source: Arthur C. Brooks, "The Real Culture War Is Over Capitalism; Tea parties, 'ethical populism,' and the moral case against redistribution," Wall Street Journal, April 30, 2009.

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